How many of us gave any thought to international supply chains before the pandemic? We took for granted that goods shipped from overseas would reach our store shelves. Now we are aware of the impact of disruption to supply chains and freight transportation. We have a newfound appreciation for truck drivers as we see them hauling containers filled with imported goods from our ports. What we don’t realize is that almost half of those containers are transported back to the port filled with nothing but air. In other words, many of the containers you see on the road are empty which is inefficient, costly, and harmful to the environment.
The repositioning of empty containers is a problem that has plagued maritime shipping for decades. It costs the industry $20 billion annually and emits 19 million metric tons of emissions. The answer to the problem is street-turns which occur when an import load is matched with an export booking inland, eliminating empty container transport to and from our ports. So why is the execution of street-turns not a standard practice?
Industry players have been unable to effectively perform street-turns on a large scale due to a lack of transparency or ability to share information between parties in the supply chain. Importers don’t know where the export shippers are and vice versa. Truckers or forwarders only see the shipments they manage. Their systems are not set up to connect with each other so the data is fractured across the industry.
Companies handle thousands of imports and exports every day, creating millions of street-turn opportunities. Finding the best container matches among so many options is a complicated and costly process. Freight planners do not have the time nor the systems required to turn mountains of unstructured data into usable information. Historically, street-turns have been identified in an ad-hoc and manual way, if at all, and usually restricted to a company’s own operations.
The issue is less a transportation function and more of a data and technology challenge. MatchBack Systems, a logistics software company, seized the opportunity to tackle this age-old problem and move a traditional industry forward with innovative solutions while having a positive impact on the environment.